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Are Alpha Males a Myth or a Reality?

Three physical characteristics associated with social dominance include:

Height. Being tall has a range of social benefits: Taller men demonstrate less sensitivity to cues of dominance in other men (e.g., masculinity), and show less jealousy toward socially and physically dominant rivals than shorter men do. Tall men are also perceived as more dominant than shorter men. Similarly, dominant men also “play larger, ” as they are estimated to be taller than less-dominant men. Taken together, these results offer some explanation for the well-known association between height and social status. Tall men more often enjoy leadership roles, have higher starting salaries, and have greater overall income. And intelligence may not correct for this disparity: One study reported that full professors were .47 inches taller than associate professors, who were .26 inches taller than assistant professors, who were in turn 1.24 inches taller than the average nonacademic.

Height is also highly valued in the human mating market: Studies show that women favor tall men not just in controlled laboratory-based experiments, but in real-world contexts such as online dating advertisements and speed-dating events. Such men also garner more responses to online dating profiles; are more likely to get a date; and are more likely to be married. There's a curious caveat, however—although height is linked to mate preferences in the West, studies have revealed that a desire for tall men is not a cross-cultural universal.

Voice. Having a deep voice has been referred to as "the Barry White Effect." Studies show that a man's voice communicates much more than spoken words: It's also a signal of physical size, and, in turn, his potential ability to prevail in mano-a-mano combat. Likewise, men with low voices are perceived as older, taller, heavier, and more dominant. In other words, he could best a competitor in a brawl.

And as one might expect, men with euphonious voices show higher levels of mating success. In surveys of North Americans, men with low-pitched voices tallied more total sex partners, and among Hadza hunter-gatherers low voice pitch was related to having greater numbers of children. Further, those judged to have appealing voices also reported having sex earlier; more total sex partners; and more affairs. There may be a double meaning to the phrase “a smooth talker, ” as research has found that women find attractive voices more difficult to resist.

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